Legal i

The law and running out of fuel on a motorway

Question Can you settle a dispute with a friend? He says it is an offence to run out of fuel on a motorway, but I have never heard of this. I have tried to find the answer on various online forums, but I’m finding that there are a lot of conflicting opinions and they don’t seem particularly well informed. I believe you can only stop on the hard shoulder in an emergency, but I’m not sure if running out of fuel constitutes an emergency.

Answer It is not in itself an offence to run out of fuel on a motorway. On the contrary, The Motorways Traffic (England and Wales) Regulations 1982 specifically permit stopping on the hard shoulder ‘by reason of a breakdown or mechanical defect or lack of fuel, oil or water, required for the vehicle’. You may also stop on the hard shoulder by reason of any accident, illness or other emergency, to recover or move any object that has fallen onto the motorway, or to help anyone with any of these problems.
Stopping on the hard shoulder because of an emergency is permitted only if the emergency arose after entering the motorway. A driver was convicted in a case where he felt drowsy about a mile before entering the motorway, but did not see anywhere he could park before reaching the motorway, so he parked at the side of the slip road. The court decided that as the motorist felt drowsy before entering the motorway it could not be said that an emergency caused him to stop.

What then if you enter a motorway knowing that you do not have enough fuel to get you to the next service station or junction? I do not think that the case of the drowsy driver has any bearing on this, since the court were particularly concerned with what can amount to an emergency, whereas the regulations in relation to fuel state simply that stopping on the hard shoulder is permissible if you run out of fuel. There might, however, be a case for saying that where you knew you did not have enough fuel when you entered the motorway, then you are guilty of either driving without due care and attention or driving without reasonable consideration for other road users. The offence of driving without due care and attention is usually reserved for the act of driving itself, rather than the condition of the vehicle, but it is arguable that your care and attention should be directed as much towards the fitness of your vehicle as to the road and surroundings. Certainly, if running out of fuel caused an accident due to your sudden slowing down or stopping on the motorway, you could not rely on running out of fuel as a defence to a charge of careless driving if you knew or ought to have known that you were low on fuel.

Having explored the possibility of conviction for careless or inconsiderate driving where you have run out of fuel, I am unaware of any cases in which this has actually happened, so I return to the original point – that running out of fuel on a motorway is not an offence. Any adverse legal proceedings that could follow would probably only arise if an accident occurred as a result.

Designed by solicitors, tested by barristers and available around the clock, Road Traffic Representation is an online legal system that allows people accused of a motoring offence to get free advice on how the law will be applied in their case, and referral to a telephone helpline and representation by a barrister in court if required. Practising solicitor Martin Langan spent two years designing the system and creating the data repository which allows the software to analyse road traffic offences with the same authority as a solicitor.

Twitter: martinlangan
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